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How Parenting Mistakes Affect You When You’re Older

Norbert Juma, Lead Editor




noun: mistake; plural noun: mistakes

  1. 1.
    an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong.

Learning From Mistakes

Ohhh I have a lot to say on my experience of this subject but first, we must understand that a mistake is an opportunity for learning.  It’s in the getting it wrong, recognizing the error, and correcting it by trying again that growth occurs.

You could even go as far as arguing that it is the mistakes that create us and not the getting-it-right-all-the-time moments.  Mistakes are only failures when we don’t look to correct them when we deny them.

However, should we be responsible for correcting other people’s mistakes? Or being the victim of them for the rest of our lives?

Whose Mistake Is It?

“Do you think you overcompensate with the girls?”  This was a question a good friend asked me when I was struggling to sort childcare a few years ago for my kids. It wasn’t that the childcare wasn’t out there.

It was that the mistakes I had been a part of when I was a child, directly affected my ability to consider any.  “Yes, of course I do,” I replied, but I’m completely aware of it. And I’m working on it every day.

You see, my mum dropped my sister and I off at a child-minder’s house every morning before school, and we went back there every day after too.  At the time I knew it was all wrong. I knew what he did was naughty.

I knew he did it to his own kids, and they knew he did it to me.  The child-minder’s husband was an abuser, a sexual abuser, and I endured this for several years, mildly thank god, but it was still very damaging.  My parents had their own shit going on, so I never said anything.

We were already that family and I didn’t much fancy adding to our already whispered name. I’m not sure they’d have believed me anyway. My mum had looked high and low for “decent” childcare, and I didn’t want to create more angst for her in her already complicated life – my parents messed up.

Or did they?  Whose mistakes were these?  It was an error made by the child-minder’s husband.  It was an error that the school didn’t pick up on my suddenly introverted behavior.  But the original sin was ultimately not my parents’.

Their mistake was in not recognizing what was going on, therefore not dealing with it. Their mistake was in being so caught up with killing one another that they didn’t pay attention to the signs, and there were plenty, trust me!

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Minimize Mistakes With Acceptance and Apology

At the same time all this was going on for me, my parents were going through their own shit with an aggressive and acrimonious divorce.

Between them they committed every wrong that a parent could make during this process, removing any level of filtering and protection for my sister and I; this was their mistake, and they have apologized profusely for it ever since.

All of our feelings have been acknowledged and we’ve all been open about the past.  But the damage is done. Emotional mistakes, especially endured during those influential and vulnerable years, is like smashing a precious plate.

Sure, acceptance and apologies can glue it back together, and the plate can become functional again, but the cracks will always be there.  That plate will not be as solid as it was before, but it has survived. It just may need reinforcing every now and again with another drop of glue.


Removing Yourself From Someone Else’s Mistake

Both of my parents went on to remarry, it was an unpleasant experience on both sides. I ended up leaving home at a very young age and learning to survive way before I should have.  I had unrealistic expectations to reach on one side of my parental fence.

I didn’t exist on the other side.  I think I played ping pong for years, over-striving in one breath and giving up without hope of being recognized with the next.  I couldn’t please either of them, or at least that’s how it felt.

As I grew older, I could feel my parents’ mistakes infiltrating my life over and over again. If I were to break free of these chains, which were their chains —not mine— then I needed to take action by removing who I was from what had been done.

Parenting Mistakes That Are Warnings

I tell you all this, and trust me I could tell you loads more, but I’ll spare you and my family further details. It’s not easy reading or writing.

I’ve lent into that original question my friend asked me many times and check myself regularly. I now have five daughters of my own, and I’m very happily married too.

Today these mistakes from my childhood act as red flags for me. Spending my childhood in a volatile home heightens all the senses.  You are on high alert all the time, waiting for the next explosion or sensing the atmosphere turn. It’s a bit like a storm coming in, you can literally sense it in the air.

This awareness serves me well today and I can sense disagreement, annoyance, frustration and sadness incredibly well. I’m able to decipher it and thwart its development with ninja-like reaction!

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I also run an open and honest home, encouraging everyone to just tell it as it is and get it out there.  We become one of two things for our kids: a warning or an example.  This area of my childhood provided a ton of warnings, and my parents became an example of what I did not want to become.

Parenting Mistakes That Are Examples

Let me now fast forward 20 years and tell you of mistakes my parents have made, and continue to make, that are absolutely up-in-lights, diamond-studded examples.  Remember, mistakes are a chance to learn both good and bad things.

My mum’s second marriage came to end with her losing pretty much everything she had.  Her husband ran off with a younger woman, taking with him my mother’s sanity, self-confidence, business, home and, of her course, her dignity. She took that knock and she took it hard.

She got up again, rebuilt herself and her life slowly. She became strong but not tough and angry. She healed. She looked back on what her mistakes had been during those years leading up to it. She learned lessons, and now she is doing fine.  Every day I am so proud of her.

Every day I thank her for showing me the mistakes she both made and was a part of.  My mum is a shining example to me, and if I can be half the woman she is, I’ll be one happy bunny.

My dad also remarried and lost his wife to cancer a few years back. He’d softened his edges during his time with this woman. She wasn’t as emotionally accommodating as my mum, and my dad needed that!

When she died, my dad spent several years grieving and drinking.  He drank a lot.  Then he got up one day and decided to go fishing in Thailand.

Now, let me just explain something to you here, my dad’s furthest journey up until that point had been between his house and the pub opposite, so when he made this announcement I was gobsmacked!  But, off he went to fish the Mekong River with a bunch of expats.

He became fully immersed in his new life, kinda forgot we were here, more than he usually did anyway. He decided life in Thailand was better than life here, even if we weren’t in it!

He didn’t make his transition with thought or feeling for any of us. He was selfish at times and he expected life to just carry on as normal whenever he returned, even if he’d been gone for months on end!

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There were mistakes written all over this, and for several years I felt abandoned and replaced by my dad.  This was amplified by the fact that he was dating a variety of Thai girls all younger than me.

But, my dad has also emerged as an example of his mistakes.  He, like my mum, needed to heal.  He needed to sell up and start again to break free of what “had been” and create his “what is.”

He is settled.  He loves his life.  He dates, dines, fishes.  He whitewater rafts.  He’s reeducating himself with his travels. He’s 75, and if I can be as active as him, as happy as him at that age, I’ll take that with knobs on!  These parenting mistakes are an example to me over and over.

Release The Shame, It’s Not Yours To Own

I’ve been completely open and honest with my girls about my childhood, and I do not hate or carry anger towards my parents.  They were doing the very best they could with the tools they had at that time. They’ve realized their mistakes.  They have indeed done their best to reconcile them.

My story is honest, out there, open and real. When you give voice to things that haunt you, they cannot manifest themselves in shame or guilt.  They cannot hide and they cannot breed.

The minute the mistakes of our parents affect who we are, we carry those mistakes forward and the cycle begins again.  Learn from them, don’t own them.

Use Your Past To Create Your Present Experiences

I realized I could either be an example to my girls or a warning, and I knew which I’d rather be.  I can still see my parents in me sometimes. I’m tuned into their destructive patterns of behavior from all those years ago, and whenever I feel them in me, I react.

They made mistakes, but they are their mistakes and only they can process them.  They are not for me to carry and make my own.  We do not have control over anybody else, nor can we change anything that has happened.

We do, however, have a choice as to how it will contribute to our now, to our today, to our lives and the lives of our families. Yes, I may overcompensate sometimes, but I am in charge of how it affects my experiences today.

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